China has been denying the reports that coronavirus leaked from the
laboratory in Wuhan. At the same time, there has been a sustained
campaign involving different Chinese media elements. Which
suggested coronavirus came to China from other countries — from
marine and beef export to a military lab. The conspiracy theories are
being circulated through political statements, state-run news media,
social media as well as using rap songs.
The latest conspiracy story blames lobsters from the US. A news
article claimed a cargo containing 55 boxes of Boston lobsters, which
had landed in Shanghai on November 11, 2019. The news portal
named Sina said the traceability of coronavirus pointed at the cold
chain of US seafood products. “Therefore, it is entirely possible for the
virus to attach to the cold chain packaging of this batch of seafood
products in the United States and enter the South China seafood
market,” reads the article.
Interestingly, Zha Liyou, the Chinese
consul general in India’s Kolkata, too tweeted the conspiracy theory.
In November 2020, Chinese authorities had claimed that coronaviru
was found on the shrimps imported from Saudi Arabia. Earlier, China
suspended beef imports from Brazil. The state-run Global Times said
the Brazilian beef sent to the Wuhan market was found with active
coronavirus. Beijing has even blamed the US military for leaking
coronavirus into China. Zhao Lijian spokesperson for the Chinese
foreign affairs ministry, said “It might be US army who brought the
epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us
an explanation!”. Another such spokesperson Hua Chunying
demanded that a team of international experts including the World
Health Organisation (WHO) be allowed to inspect the biological lab at
Fort Detrick in Maryland.
The comments from the government officials were followed up by an
intense social media campaign. A huge number of social media posts
with the hashtag ‘biological laboratory in US Fort Detrick’ were made
on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter. Since then 35 Chinese
officials and social media outlets have mentioned ‘Fort Detrick’ in over
115 tweets in nine languages.
Also, the Chinese government got an
Italian tabloid to publish a story that claimed the coronavirus was
spread through a blood camp by the US military.
League, the youth branch of China’s ruling Communist Party,
circulated the story on social media with a headline ‘”Damning
evidence! The coronavirus entered Europe from Fort Detrick via a US
army blood donation program.” A rap song ‘Open the Door to Fort
Detrick’ was created demanding an investigation into the origin of
coronavirus in the US.
Global Times too pushed news articles focusing on online petitions for
the investigation of Fort Detrick.10 At the same time, China denied a
second phase of the WHO’s investigation into possible leaks from the
Chinese researcher Zhang Wenhong ruled out the
possibility of the coronavirus virus having been imported into
China.”If that was the case, we should have seen patients emerging
from different regions in the country around the same time rather
than their concentration in Wuhan,” he said. In such a case, China
resorted to all types of propaganda techniques to shift the blame.
“This would appear to be a nationalist narrative aimed at countering
criticism of the Chinese government for not better managing the
outbreak in its early stages,” said Jane Duckett, professor at the
Scottish Centre for China Research, University of Glasgow.
Chinese pulmonologist Zhong Nanshan too made a remark that
Covid-19 “may not have originated in China”. The propaganda to
frame the US was aimed at diverting blame from China as most of the
world population believed Wuhan was the origin of the coronavirus.
“Right after the Wuhan lab leak became a credible hypothesis in the
US, official media in China basically doubled down on allegations that
a US military lab could be the origin point of the pandemic,” said
Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow at New York- based Council on
Foreign Relations. The Wuhan Lab is very close to the Wuhan wet
market, which is considered as the source of Covid-19.
China has been blaming the US and frozen food from other countries
through disinformation campaigns to hijack the origin narrative. But it
has had a little success. Marcel Schliebs, a disinformation researcher
at the University of Oxford, said “Attribution is really difficult. But we
can see there’s a coordinated effort, and that it’s a pro-Chinese
narrative.” This however has muddied the truth and confused people.